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Happy New Year folks! Greetings out of the swirling mists of Monteverde, light precipitation aided by the intense winds that have been building over the last week. December was so kind to us (maybe not to the rainforest creatures, but to us, the humanoids) that when the winds and raindrops hit a few days ago, we felt assaulted. Yet we know that this is the weather that is normal for here and appropriate weather is what makes the world go round, along with love, so I’ll just shut up about that now.
Love and weather – one can always talk about one or the other. I’m afraid that my rasta beauty Roberto is going to have to leave soon and return to his hot home on the Caribbean coast, partly due to things needing to get done, partly due to weather – he’s not leaving the apartment so much these days as the temperature drops and the wind pushes. We’ve had some company so that is always good – if you don’t want to go outside, it’s always nice for friends to come calling.
The festive season is over but because schools here don’t return for another week and the university students (children of the locals) who are visiting for the holidays don’t have to go back to the US for awhile, it feels like everything is still in slow-mo. It seems to me that in Canada, the first Monday after New Years is the day that everything kicks back into action. Well here, as in so many other ways, we are in Costa Rican time and so we slowly (but surely?) return to normal business….it needs to happen soon since I have a lot to do and am running out of excuses.
On the day after Christmas, we went to the beautiful amphitheatre at Bromelias and saw a band from Seattle – the Massy Ferguson band. It was a stunning night – the big ol moon that was slowing turning blue, no wind – which is important in this outside venue, good music. Although I didn’t know them, I remember Tony Mann and his wife who lived here before and they came back with the band that Tony plays keyboards with. They played mostly original music and we enjoyed their show – not in the least because they had a sound that reminded me of the Marshall Tucker Band – they covered “Can’t You See”, one of my all time favorite songs – and if you like a cover of a fav song, you know that the band’s done good. The lead singer/guitarist/flautist is Ethan Anderson – a great front guy, talented and charismatic. Twas a real perty night in Monteverde.
After that, my good friend Zulay, along with her sister Hilda, niece Gabriela, nephew Jason and friend Willie, came for a quick visit to Monteverde. I lived with Zulay both here in Monteverde years ago and over on her farm in San Carlos – this was a whirlwind (like the wind) tour because the others hadn’t been in Monteverde before (well, Jason, when he was 4) and so they came, they saw, they left. I spent some time with them, visiting the house where Zulay and I (and her ex-husband Vicente) had lived back in the mid-90s. These folks have been super kind to me over the years – truly, they are my Costa Rican family – so whenever I can in any small way repay their hospitality, I’m thrilled. Willie just survived a very serious motorcycle accident – hit broadside, thrown far, some head injuries – and is still feeling the effects, but it was good to see him alive.
Zulay and I went to the Guindon Sunday dinner after Christmas. It was a surprise for the family who hadn’t seen Zulay in awhile. It was wonderful to see Wolf’s son, Carlos and Lidieth – he who has recently translated Walking with Wolf into Tico-Spanish, his wife who hasn’t been here in a few years though I visited them both last spring in New Hampshire. When we entered the house, I immediately noticed that there was a new network of tree limbs strung about the ceiling (and decorated with Christmas bells and baubles) – this would be for the sloth that Benito has been mothering since last spring – now the sloth can leave her basket and crawl around on the limbs, eat the hibiscus flowers, and feel very much at home. She’s into biting now so one can’t pet her as before, and when she gets looking real fat they have to get her outside so that she can poop, but besides all those minor details, she looks like she is very comfortable in the hospitable Guindon home. It was joyous to spend an evening with the family, getting to know more grandchildren, the next generation, and their friends. Every time I am with this clan, I feel phenomenally lucky to be included – to have ever met Wolf, to have persevered with his story, and to have been received warmly by his family.
New Year’s Eve was a wow night here – big full blue moon, no wind, hot night. Kadeho, a rock band from San José, came to Mata e Cana, the newly renovated cool place to be (formerly La Taverna, the old cool place to be) in Santa Elena. Roberto and I went, we danced, we danced some more, and the night was spectacular. I believe in bringing in the new year with positive vibes – be it dance, love, great friends and food – whatever, as long as it’s positive – we are heading for another great year. I don’t take that for granted, having had some miserable First Nights in the past followed by some challenging years. Life.
Then came my good friends from La Sabanilla – Myrna and her daughters Sofia and Veronica. We have been friends since Myrna’s ex-husband, Luis Zumbado, played here in 1999 at the Monteverde Music Festival when I was caring for the house of the musicians. Myrna split with Luis about five years ago and suffered. But now she is about to marry a very nice man from Houston Texas, Ron, and she brought him here to introduce him to me.
Along with her daughters – the sexy-saxophonist Sofia, and the lovely violinista Veronica – well, we’ve all been girlfriends for years now and it was wonderful to see everyone happy. And to meet this very deep-thinking, gentle man who has put a smile back on the face of my friend Myrna.
At the same time, I’ve been helping another friend, Tanya, a Canadian with many years of being in Monteverde, while she recovers from splitting with her husband of 35 years. I’ve been the house-whisperer – helping her get rid of stuff, hugging her when the raw emotion is too much, encouraging her as she makes her plans to move on. Accompanied by her beautiful border collie, Elly (my favorite kinda dog in the world), we’ve worked our way thru boxes of arts supplies, music, and books. There is nothing more cleansing than getting rid of all that extra stuff we accumulate. She has a beautiful home in the woods, looking out across the treetops at the Monteverde vista – the Gulf of Nicoya, the sunset, the future. I have grown to love this woman, surrounded by pain but on her way to an exciting future. Remember, when one door closes….
As the winds blow and the darkness settles in, Roberto and I are getting ready to go dancing in Santa Elena. I’ve been watching the cooks at the restaurant next door as they pluck chickens that will soon go on their BBQ spit. I think this is very illegal – slaughtering fresh birds at a restaurant. I can’t help but wonder if the wrong order came (“we said fresh, not breathing”) and the cooks just adapted to the situation. Not a safe place for a chicken to be crossing the street.
This last week in Monteverde, my concern has been for los animales de la calle, the street dogs, cats and well… as we walk the roads, going here and there, in a two-kilometer stretch we have seen five dead dogs and two dead armadillos! What is going on? Are the animals suicidal, suffering from seasonal depression, or are the car drivers feeling a maniacal urge to kill? I’m not sure what is happening – the paving of the road here, in the congested area of Cerro Plano, could mean it is simply bad luck on behalf of animals being out on the road in the dark, being victims, but it is also possible that there is something more sinister happening. Way too much roadkill going on.
Ai yi yi…right when I wanted to talk about peace, love and grooviness, a dead armadillo appeared – Roberto would have skinned it and made a tasty dinner – better that than pure waste. In this crazy world of ours, life throws us these things – love doesn’t always prevail, shit happens. Sometimes we suffer, sometimes we prosper. Happy 2010 my friends.
It is as inevitable as the wind and rain in Monteverde, that one day my time will be up and I have to leave. I don’t worry about going and I quickly transfer my thinking to arriving instead – back to Canada, friends there, familiar haunts, a different kind of music and the beautiful northern landscape. As long as I have the privilege and ability to return when I want to Costa Rica, then I can leave with a simple “nos vemos” – “we’ll see each other”, rather than “adios”, which feels much more final.
Of course this year also takes me back to Canada with a whole new purpose in life – bringing Walking with Wolf to the masses, doing publicity, marketing and distributing of my precious little tome. So there is an excitement at the back of my brain that I try not to get too caught up in, but will soon – within twenty-four hours now, I’ll be full on ready to conquer the north. I have until September 6 to prepare for the first big official book launch in Hamilton, and then the following weekend I’m returning to my old community in the northeast to do hopefully three presentations over a few days. This is the part of the world close to Temagami, Ontario, which I talk about in the book. I have many old friends there who have been very supportive and I am really looking forward to the book parties there. And in the second week of October, I think I will be doing a presentation at Olney Friends School in Barnesville, Ohio, which we also talk about, Wolf’s alma mater, for their Homecoming weekend. This hasn’t been decided yet, but the idea seems to have interested the director and so I will soon be in touch with him about the possibility.
Having received such wide spread acceptance and praise in Monteverde from the people who are closest to the story will truly help me go out in the big northern world and hold my head up, proud of our book. I know that I was most nervous of the reaction of the biologists – sticklers for detail that they are, strong-willed, educated and quite sure of their own versions of the world – but several of them have spoken up for the quality of the book and have enjoyed reading it and shared a minimum of criticism (maybe I shouldn’t have called the tropical cloud and rain forest “jungle” but to the outsider, that is truly what it is, by dictionary definition as well.)
One of the surprises of the reaction to the book is how many people have said to me that it has revived in them the spirit of the community. Wolf’s stories about the founding of Monteverde, and my modern day descriptions have given them a renewed sense of what a special community they are part of. I had always hoped to properly present Wolf’s life and accomplishments but it had never occurred to me that our book might be a positive factor in the community. How proud can one be for playing a role such as that?
I have also heard from friends in Canada who don’t know Wolf, Monteverde or Costa Rica, and have said they love the story and the writing. So that bodes well for the future of the book simply as a piece of literature. I think it’s deepest purpose is the telling of Wolf’s interesting and dedicated life with all its flaws and colorful tales, and that is what I feel the most able to go out and talk about. His is an inspirational story of humor, hard work and humility and I take great pride in being able to tell this story.
In the week that I was offline, I returned to Monteverde, saw friends, packed and repacked, sat down with Wolf and signed a whole box of books to take back to deserving friends in Canada, did some dancing, had some great conversations and enjoyed my final days of tropical life. I spent a day down in San Luis waiting for the arrival of fifteen teams of oxen who were coming from the low lands for a festival, but unfortunately had to leave by the time only one team had arrived (those beasts move very slowly). I managed to get bit on my finger by something – I thought an ant, but now think maybe a spider – that now, four days later, is still swollen up in a bunch of itchy bumps. What a year for bites! I think it may be caused by the rainy season, as I found the bug population rampant. I ran off to Cahuita on the Caribbean for twenty-four hours and was blessed with sunshine and a starry night, whereas there had been pouring rain for the days before I got there. Here too I was bitten while swimming in the sea, something that rarely happens at all, especially in the Caribbean. But I was floating and some seaweed wrapped itself around me and four sharp stings (jelly-fish? Some say sea fleas?) sent me out of the water, waiting to see if I’d have some weird reaction like that poor Australian nature guy. You just never know these days. My papalomoyo seems to be under control, though I’ll continue with my sulpha treatments in Canada – and I still have a series of bitemarks on my thighs that we think are from mites of some sort. Hmmmm, August in Hamilton, the bug situation should be pretty tame in comparison.
I spent the last couple nights with Edin Solis (the photo is me with one of his Grammies) and his wife Lorena Rodríguez, he of Editus, she an interior, exterior and just about all round everything designer. Edin was finishing the work on the soundtrack to a BBC documentary production called “The Winds of Papagayo” – about the changes of the environment in Guanacaste, the northwest province of Costa Rica. How interesting was that – not just listening to the musical themes that Edin had composed (great surf beat dude) and admiring how the music followed the images and the story of the documentary, but the information within the work itself. It promises to be a very interesting piece of journalism (with a beautiful soundtrack) about what is happening with development on the fragile Pacific coastline. I had never realized that the winds collect and transport great fertility that has risen from the huge Lake Nicaragua to the north, as well as from the potent gases of the various volcanoes that run in a chain straight through Central America. The strong winds we know in parts of Costa Rica do have an important purpose besides blowing us around and keeping us cool. The doc also focuses on the over-expansion of development on the coastline, the extreme change of community life in less than thirty years, the changes in the winds themselves, and the struggle of the turtle population to survive the many forces that are working against them.
I think of Costa Rica in general as about as fragile as a population of olive ridley sea turtles. Even though I know so many dynamic, charismatic, kind, intelligent and hardworking people in this little country, over all I feel they are all under threat. Out of control development, foreign influence, fear, and an economy that isn’t servicing the people at the lower end of the scale are all signs of a difficult future. The country has great “green” policies but doesn’t seem to have the backbone to enforce the laws. Most people I talk to have little faith in the government, having had three of their last presidents found guilty of some form of kickbacks. The president of the day, Oscar Arias, a Nobel Peace Prize winner for his work in the 80s on bringing peace to the Central American region, had the constitution changed, by the vote of 4 judges, so that he could be re-elected (up until the last election, Costa Rica had a rule, similar to the USA, that presidents could only serve one term). He also supported CAFTA, the free-trade agreement with the USA, which many people are extremely leery of. This all adds up to a disgruntled society in an over-stressed country with a frustrated view of the future.
I love these people and this country.
The very talented Sofia Zumbado, award-winning saxophonist and her beautiful mom Myrna Castro
My friend 100-year old Otilia Gonzales and her daughters Gladys and Margarita
Luis Angel Obando, Head of Protection, Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
HEY! How’d this guy make it in here?
Everyone I know in Costa Rica is involved in some interesting project, not only to make a living, but to bring some new awareness to their life. I wish them all well. Tenga fe mis amigos, nos vemos pronto.
Beautiful Cabure Argentine Cafe in Monteverde, where I have wireless and send email from (and eat and drink…)
I’d like to say that I’m writing this from the balcony of some funky hotel on the coast, watching the pelicans flying in formations and listening to the waves crashing. Instead, I’m back up in Monteverde, listening to the birds waking up and the early shift workers’ motorcycles heading to the dairy plant. However, I am bringing you a story of great success in the big city, getting Walking with Wolf out of customs with a minimum of fuss and a reasonable amount of money. I decided to come back up the mountain Wednesday in the Reserve truck with the books and Wolf. Beto our trusty chauffeur made it all easy once again. As is usual this time of the year, the day is dawning bright and sunny but the rain will move in sometime later, so you have to get your outdoor chores done early or you are going to get very wet.
Wolf and I went down last Sunday on the afternoon bus following the community potluck lunch which is held the first Sunday of every month after the Quaker meeting. It is a great chance to eat really good homemade food and to visit with folks who you may never run into otherwise. We sold some books, filled our bellies and then went in the pouring rain to Santa Elena. Fortunately the bus was a dry one, unlike the older bus that I came up in the week before, where every other seat was under a leak and it was hard to stay dry even though you were inside a bus. It seems that’s a theme of these latest blog posts – the fact that it is being a very wet beginning to a rainy season is impossible to ignore. Staying dry is a challenge but you just have to accept the inevitable – for the first time that I can remember, I bought an umbrella, although much of the time even an umbrella, rubber boots and rain coat aren’t going to keep you completely dry.
We spent the first night at the Casa Ridgeway, known as the Peace Center, run by Quakers, which is Wolf’s base camp when in San Jose. The folks there know him and were all pleased to see the book. It is a spartan little place which I don’t mind – I especially like the monk-like rooms that are painted white with no decoration except a quote about peace stenciled on the wall. My room said: Me, you can kill but you can’t silence justice.
Early Monday we began the process of getting the books. I’m still not sure what that first company we dealt with was exactly – there are a number of hands extended when in the process of paying to get your imported goods. Although we called early in the morning, the papers weren’t ready for us till mid-afternoon. We then took a taxi out to the western part of the city, La Sabana Norte, and there we paid for the permit to release the books and the cost of the books being moved off of the boat and into the customs storage. Once that is done you want to get them out quickly as they cost plenty for each day they are held. We paid our money and received the documents and were told to contact the aduana, the customs broker, Eliezar Alfaro Porras, who helped us through the next step. It was too late to see him but we did make an arrangement to meet at 9 a.m. on Tuesday.
This, of course, meant another trip by taxi and bus and taxi to Alajuela, near the airport. Eliezar was great, meeting us in a convenient place, taking us in his car to his office, trying to explain the process of what was going on, attempting to keep the costs down, going to the bank for me to speed up the process. We spent a few hours with him but they were pleasant ones and I will keep his number to use him again in the future. By 1 p.m. he had confirmation that everything was in order and we could head out to the bodega, the big storage place where the books were being held. We went back into the city by bus and taxi to the Tropical Science Center who had said they would send a vehicle out to pick up the books. By the time we got there, their truck wasn’t around and by 3 it was looking like we wouldn’t be able to get our books that day as the bodega closed at 5 and was at least half an hour away. This was worrisome as you don’t want to stop the momentum once it is rolling. As Wolf kept saying, if we don’t go while we are at the head of the line, who knows how far back they will send us. I have to say that both Carlos Hernandez, the director at the Reserve who has helped and supported us every step of the way, and then Vicente Watson, one of the main scientists at the TSC, were invaluable.
When Vicente realized that we didn’t have a vehicle to pick up the books, he stayed with the problem, gnawing the bone, until it got worked out. By 3:15 we were in a car with Warner Corvajal, an employee there, zipping across and out of the city to Santo Domingo de Heredia where the bodega was. Vladimir Jimenez and the TSC truck was located on its way back from a trip and was rerouted to the bodega. By 4 we had the paperwork done and the last money paid. By 4:30 we were loaded and on our way back to the TSC office in San Pedro. It all happened so quick and with so little fuss, except for the hours of waiting, it is still hard to believe. In the old days, things took a lot longer. But with computers and supportive people who are trying hard to help the process go quickly, well, incredibly, sometimes it does.
Wolf and I celebrated with a great Italian meal of very anchovish ceasar salad, authentic pizza and red wine at Pane y Vino in San Pedro. We had spent the better part of the two days together and had lots of time to talk while waiting. If there is something Wolf and I can do it is talk, but at the same time we don’t always have quiet time anymore to do just that. We have either been running around or surrounded by family and friends or so tired that all we can do is smile at each other.
I moved from the Peace Center to my friend Myrna Castro’s house for Monday and Tuesday night. I met Myrna and her daughters Sofia and Veronica when they came to the music festival back in 1999. Her ex-husband, Luis Zumbado, is a great violinist and was playing in Monteverde that year and staying in the house for the musicians which I managed for a couple of years. I’ve remained friends with them and try to visit at least once a year when in the big city. Veronica and I went out Monday night to visit Sonsax, our friends the sexy-saxophonists, who were practicing at the university. I hadn’t seen them for a couple of years. Valerio, Jan, Pablo, Chopper & Manrique the percussionist are five great guys who have played around the world including the Montreal Jazz Festival, where I’ve gone to see them a couple of times. When I first knew them back in the mid-nineties, they were young crazy too-good-looking-for-their-own-good musicians, but they are all maturing (or getting old as Jan said, not me) and now have wives, children and are all busy teaching when they aren’t playing their high energy brand of sax music.
I also went to see Manuel Monestel again, the musical leader and mentor of Cantoamerica who I went dancing to last week. We shared some wine and some stories about the Caribbean community, which we both know and love. Made me want to go to Cahuita, the funky little town I’ve spent a lot of time in on the east coast. He was heading there the next day, so now I await some good gossip back.
While we were in the city, we also talked with the Tico Times, who took the book to read and do a review and we will return for an interview in a week or so. We talked to Marc and John at Seventh Street Books who will carry the book but it isn’t the kind that they distribute. But they are going to be helpful in supplying a list of booksellers in the country where our book may fit in. I will head out on some roadtrips, peddling books to the stores I choose in places I want to go (and return to later).
When Beto arrived on Wednesday morning at the TSC office, we carefully loaded the books, along with a bunch of bedding materials, and triple wrapped everything in plastic and tarps. It poured on us most of the way home but we felt pretty confident that the boxes would be okay. As it turned out they weren’t totally. When Beto and I unwrapped the boxes Thursday morning, the bottom four boxes had water damage – fortunately we only lost about 10 books to a bit of damage, and not so bad that we can’t give them as freebies to friends. But as Wolf said, those books traveled all that way from Montreal to Costa Rica on the sea and were dry, but a little 4 hour trip up the mountain to Monteverde couldn’t keep them that way. I tell you, the moisture in this place would be to die for if you lived in the desert, but I’m back on that mantra again…beach, beach, beach…
So now it is already Friday – I’ve written this in bits and starts. Have been distributing books, making plans, and am truly heading to the beach tomorrow, then back to the big city. Have some presentations lined up at the Reserve for the next week. But I need some more sun and heat then Monteverde is willing to dish out right now. However, one last night out at the new sushi restaurant in Santa Elena, oh so good – and a visit with our friend Marc Egger, multi-lingual guide extraordinaire, who is here from Sao Paolo, Brazil. It’ll be a great night slurping sashimi. Soon I shall return, hopefully with sand in my shoes and solar energy stored in my skin.